Paul is dead… miss him, miss him. And actually, Paul is dead, the Beatles’ Tribute band 1964 lost its Paul, Gary Grimes, to brain cancer in 2010 at the age of 60, but 1964 continued with an ever changing line up that, in a reversal to the hand of fate, has only one constant, Mark Benson as John Lennon. Otherwise the tributeers, formed in 1984, have gone through five Pauls, four Georges, and three Ringos, over the the course of a career that has lasted something like three times longer than the Beatles themselves.
At Carnegie Hall Saturday night, 1964 weren’t bad, their problem was they came up with an unsustainable idea and decided not to sustain it, which left them in the untenable position of trying to sell a speculative fiction they don’t believe in. A real pity because, with the exception of the singing which doesn’t begin to cut it, the actual performances are good enough. Mark Benson (John Lennon) began his career at Lay’s guitar Repair in Akron Ohio, making guitars for Eddie Van Halen and selling vintage guitars to the Stones, the Who, the Allman Brothers and countless others, before turning his attention to giving current fans a taste of what it might have been like to actually be a member of the audience at a Beatles concert. I mention this because the best thing about 1964 is the authentic sound they achieve by performing with precise replicas of the Beatles instruments. This becomes abundantly career during a four song medley featuring George Harrison’s (Tom Work) Rickenbacker 12-string, “If I Needed Someone,” “What You’re Doing,” “I Call Your Name” and “Eight Days A Week” -the birth of The Byrds, and a million chiming guitars ringing and echoing through time.
It’s not that that was the exception, not exactly, it is that… when you write sci fi, any speculative fiction actually, there is a rule: you can make the world you choose anything you want, you can make it a million years in the future where people talk only through telepathy, and if you remain true to the concept, readers will follow it, but the moment you slip with an inconsistency, you’ve lost them. I could accept 60 year old men in vintage Beatle suits and mop top wigs taking me back in time to a 1964 concert, I could accept bad Liverpilldoan accents and canned extracts from the Beatles live shows that year, I could accept just about anything, what is completely unacceptable is songs from 1965 and 1966 in a concert from 1964. That’s cheating. And it seriously distracts from what they do so well. What is “In My Life” doing there? Or (an admittedly fine) “Got To Get You Into My Life”. If you have set out with the promise of recreating a 1964 Beatle concert from the heart of Beatlemania, recreate a 1964 concert from the height of Beatlemania,, don’t fuck it up, and don’t ever claim that you are John and wrote McCartney’s “Paperback Writer” (released May 30th, 1966) a coupla days ago. In fact, don’t perform “Paperback Writer,” an exercise in three point harmonies by a band that can’t quite pull off the vocals, ever. I realize the harmonies come with the job description, and I realize they sing em, just don’t put a spotlight on it.
Tom Work’s George Harrison is great, he plays lead beyond sufficiently, and Bobby Potter’s Ringo Starr is better than that, at the height of Beatlemania Ringo was more than hampered by not being able to hear the band, so Tom’s hard and fast, enormously dextrous and immensely enjoyable drumming is rock criticism by other means. Together, whether including an accordion player, or making certain the French Horn is there on “For No One,” the performances are brimming with life. The counterpoint on the final verse was perfection, Lennon considered “For No One” one of McCartney’s greatest moments and 1964 do it justice. Other things caught my ear as well, the way McCartney put the bridge at the end of “Got To Get You Into My Life” or, and I have no excuse for this, how “A Hard Day’s Night” is a typical Lennon-McCartney dichotomy, with John working like a dog and Paul everything seems to be righting.
I went with my co-editor and main squeeze for years now, Helen Bach (her review here), and the poor thing had to survive my singing along at the top of lungs, almost beyond my own control, which is a testament to how much I enjoyed it from time to time. And when I didn’t, Helen did, pointing to the orchestral intro to “Eleanor Rigby,” which irritated me no end, with pleasure. While Helen found their visual naffness a problem, I didn’t care, it was the complete inability to sing these songs well enough that I couldn’t get over. Also, kudos to Work for performing the break on “In My Life” on guitar but by Shea Stadium Lennon was playing piano in concert, and the band needs to incorporate one. Finally, if I was 1964, I would cut the show in two halves still, but let one half be the real concert replicated, then for the second half dump the wigs and just play a Beatles set from any part of the greatest band of all times career. Till then…
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